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Updated Look at BYU Football's Path to a NY6 Bowl

BYU's chances to make a NY6 bowl are in doubt after the CFP committee released the second CFP rankings.

BYU football is 9-0 and has been ranked AP top 10 for the last few weeks, but the Cougars haven't played an FBS opponent since November 6th. Given BYU's solid standing in the AP top 10, most analysts have viewed BYU as a candidate for a NY6 bowl should the Cougars finish the season undefeated. When the first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings were released on last week, BYU fell out of the top 10 to #14. In the second edition of the rankings, BYU improved to #13 after Northwestern lost to a bad Michigan State team. Without a conference affiliation, the Cougars would need to receive an at-large bid to play in a NY6 game. Today, we take a look at where BYU needs to be ranked to make a NY6 bowl.

Since the NY6 bids depend on which conferences make the playoff, we don't know exactly where BYU will need to be ranked to qualify for a NY6 at-large bid. However, every team ranked #9 or better has been invited to a NY6 game since 2014. Nine is the magic number, but any ranking in the top 10 will likely earn BYU an at-large bid this season given the NY6 rotation. BYU could also qualify at #11 or #12, but it's not guaranteed. I've included more information at the bottom of this article that details the at-large selection process.

If The Season Ended Today

If the season ended today, here is how the NY6 would look:

  • Sugar Bowl: Alabama (1) vs Ohio State (4)
  • Rose Bowl: Notre Dame (2) vs Clemson (3)
  • Cotton Bowl: Georgia (8, at large) vs Iowa State (9, auto)
  • Peach Bowl: Florida (6, at large) vs Cincinnati (7, auto G5)
  • Fiesta Bowl: USC (20, auto) vs Oklahoma (11, at large)
  • Orange Bowl: Miami (10 auto) vs Texas A&M (5 auto)

The matchups could vary, but these are the teams that would earn a spot in a NY6 game. In this scenario, every at-large team would need to be ranked in the top 11. Since the Cougars are outside that range at #13, let's look at the scenarios where a #11 or #12 BYU could qualify for a NY6 bowl:

How BYU Could Qualify at #11 or #12

To understand this, we need to go back to automatic bids to the NY6. There are a few circumstances that earn a NY6 bid regardless of CFP ranking:

1. The champion of every P5 league

2. The highest ranked G5 team in the CFP rankings

If any automatic qualifier is ranked outside of the top 12, it takes an at-large bid away from the top 12. In the example above, PAC-12 champion (projected) USC is ranked #20 which takes the at-large bid away from #12 Indiana.

So what needs to happen for BYU to earn an at-large bid at #12?

  1. P5 champions would need to be ranked in the top 12
  2. Highest-ranked G5 team (likely Cincinnati) would need to be ranked in the top 12

The same needs to happen for BYU to earn an at-large bid at #11, except there's a little more wiggle room. If one of the six automatic qualifiers is ranked outside of the top 12, BYU would be guaranteed an at-large bid at #11.

Which teams need to lose for BYU to make a NY6 bowl?

There are 12 teams ranked in front of BYU:

  1. Alabama
  2. Notre Dame
  3. Clemson
  4. Ohio State
  5. Texas A&M
  6. Florida
  7. Cincinnati
  8. Georgia
  9. Iowa State
  10. Miami
  11. Oklahoma
  12. Indiana

At #13, BYU is two spots away from an at-large bid in the scenario we outlined above. Oklahoma and Iowa State will face each other in the Big 12 championship, meaning one of those teams will probably drop below BYU with a third loss. That takes care of one spot.

The next team that needs to lose is Indiana. If Ohio State wins the Big Ten, then BYU will compete head-to-head with Indiana for an at-large spot. Indiana still has to play Wisconsin and Purdue and ESPN FPI only gives Indiana a 12% chance to beat both of those teams. It's also worth noting that Indiana will be without star QB Michael Penix Jr. in those games who tore his ACL against Maryland last week.

It's worth noting that this would dramatically change if Ohio State is disqualified from the Big Ten championship game. If that happens, Indiana would replace the Buckeyes in the Big Ten championship and would play for an automatic bid. The Buckeyes are one cancellation away from being disqualified, and their game against Michigan next week is firmly up in the air:

In other words, BYU fans need to hope that Michigan figures out their COVID-19 situation before next Saturday.

If Indiana loses a game and the Big 12 runner-up falls below BYU, then the Cougars will earn an at-large bid as long as teams don't leapfrog BYU in the CFP rankings.

Georgia is another team that is competing with BYU for an at-large spot. A Georgia loss would help BYU, but the Bulldogs face Vanderbilt this weekend in their final regular season game and will likely win out.

As it currently stands, BYU is NOT competing against Miami for an at-large bid. Why? The Orange bowl hosts the highest available ACC team. Since Clemson and Notre Dame are currently in the top four and slated in the CFP, Miami would be the highest available ACC team and earn the automatic invitation to the Orange bowl. If Clemson loses to Notre Dame in the ACC championship, falls out of the top four, and is still ranked above Miami, then Miami's automatic bid goes away and BYU would be competing with Miami for an at-large spot.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section.

Who could leapfrog BYU?

BYU is still in danger of being leapfrogged by teams that win out. Here are a few teams to monitor over the last three weeks of the season:

Northwestern - Northwestern still has to play in the Big Ten championship game. If Northwestern wins out, it will undoubtedly surpass BYU in the rankings.

Oklahoma State - BYU fans need TCU or Baylor to knock off the Cowboys over the next few weeks.

Wisconsin - Wisconsin could surge in the rankings with wins over Indiana and Iowa.

Iowa - Iowa is a two-loss team with an opportunity to win a big game against Wisconsin. It's worth noting that the CFP committee chair is also Iowa's AD - you can decide how that has impacted Iowa's recent surge in the CFP rankings. 

USC/Washington/Colorado - BYU can be leapfrogged by the PAC-12 champion and it won't impact its chances of making a NY6 bowl. If BYU is leapfrogged the the PAC-12 runner-up, however, then the Cougars will be in trouble.

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NY6 Background

Fore more information on the at-large bid process, I've provided more information here:

First, it's important to note that the number of at-large bids can change depending on which NY6 destinations host the College Football Playoff and which conferences go to the playoff. Obviously, we don't know who will go to the playoff. But we do know that the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl host the CFP this year which is the same rotation as 2017 and 2014. Since 2014 and 2017 were on the same rotation as 2020, we'll compare against those two years the most.

It's also important to note that the College Football Playoff rankings determine those that are invited to the playoff and those that receive at-large bids. The first 2020 CFP rankings was released on November 24th.

Lastly, BYU does not qualify for the group of five NY6 spot. I've seen some analysts misunderstand that. The G5 NY6 spot is awarded to the highest ranked G5 team in the final College Football Playoff rankings. BYU is not in a G5 conference. Therefore, they do not qualify for the automatic G5 bid. If the season ended today, the G5 representative would be Cincinnati. BYU is not competing with Cincinnati for the same spot in a NY6 game.

Without further ado, let's look at 2014:

2014 NY6 Bowls

  • Sugar Bowl: Alabama (1) vs Ohio State (4)
  • Rose Bowl: Oregon (2) vs Florida State (3)
  • Cotton Bowl: Baylor (5, auto) vs Michigan State (8, at large)
  • Peach Bowl: TCU (6, at large) vs Ole Miss (9, at large)
  • Fiesta Bowl: Arizona (10, at large) vs Boise State (20, auto G5)
  • Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech (12, auto) vs Mississippi State (7, auto)

In 2014, the highest-ranked team in the CFP ranking that was excluded from the NY6 was Kansas State at #11. Why was Kansas State excluded despite being ranked in the top 12? They did not qualify for an at-large bid.

To understand at-large bids, you need to understand the difference between the three NY6 contract bowls and the three NY6 access bowls:

NY6 Contract Bowls

These bowls are under contract with specific P5 conferences. If these bowls don't host the CFP semifinal then they invite the same conferences every year:

  1. Rose Bowl (Big Ten champ/Big Ten runner up if champ goes to playoff vs PAC-12 champ/PAC-12 runner up if champ goes to playoff)
  2. Sugar Bowl (SEC champ/SEC runner up if champ goes to playoff vs BIG 12 champ/ Big 12 runner up if champ goes to playoff)
  3. Orange Bowl (ACC champ/ACC runner up if champ goes to playoff vs highest available from the SEC, Big Ten, and Notre Dame)

NY6 Access Bowls

These bowls take turns hosting the CFP semifinal but they aren't under contract with specific conferences. If they are not hosting the playoff, they host P5 champions that were not invited to the playoff and the highest-ranked G5 team. If there are spots left over, they extend at-large invitations based on CFP rankings. Matchups depend on geography and perceived competitiveness of games.

  1. Cotton Bowl
  2. Fiesta Bowl
  3. Peach Bowl

The good news for BYU fans is that contract bowls are hosting the CFP semifinal meaning more at-large spots are available this season than other rotations.

2017 NY6 Bowls

  • Sugar Bowl: Clemson (1) vs Alabama (4)
  • Rose Bowl: Oklahoma (2) vs Georgia (3)
  • Cotton Bowl: Ohio State (5, auto) vs USC (8, auto)
  • Peach Bowl: Auburn (7, at large) vs UCF (12, auto G5)
  • Fiesta Bowl: Penn State (9, at large) vs Washington (11, at large)
  • Orange Bowl: Wisconsin (6 auto) vs Miami (10 auto)

In 2017, the highest-ranked team in the CFP ranking that was excluded from the NY6 was Stanford at #13. This was a rare year - every team in the top 12 of the CFP ranking was invited to a NY6 game. Why did that happen? Because every P5 champion was in the top 12 and the highest-ranked G5 team (UCF) was in the top 12.